The #4 Denver Pioneers enter the home stretch of the 2017-18 regular season with a key road series against #9 Minnesota Duluth this weekend. DU enters the final month of the season in first place in the NCHC while the surging Bulldogs sit in a three-way tie for third place.
After a rocky start to the season, it looked as if UMD (14-11-3, 8-8-0-0 NCHC) wouldn’t be replicating their run to the national championship game a season ago. The team started 2-7 in conference play and slipped down in the national polls. Their early struggles coincided with the teams’ series in Denver Dec. 1-2, which the Pioneers swept with wins of 2-1 and 1-0.
But a split the following weekend at Nebraska-Omaha and the holiday break flipped the script for the Bulldogs, who have since gone 5-1 in NCHC play including a sweep of #7 North Dakota and a 5-1 romp over #5 St. Cloud State last weekend, all at home. The surge has UMD back in the top 10 nationally and in the Pairwise Rankings.
The biggest difference for Duluth over the two halves of the season has been their scoring offense. UMD was shut out four times in their first 16 games and likewise managed only one goal in two games in the series at Magness Arena. But since that series, UMD has put up 38 goals in eight league games, nearly five per contest.
The Bulldogs are still without a definitive individual offensive weapon. The team boasts three 20 point scorers — freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich (6G, 18A), junior forward Peter Kreiger (9G, 12A) and sohpomore forward Riley Tufte (12G, 8A) — all of whom have several multi-point games during UMD’s hot streak.
DU will most likely get another look at sophomore Hunter Shepard in net for UMD. Shepard played well against the Pioneers in the December series and has been consistently solid all year with a 2.29 GAA (fifth in the NCHC) and .914 save percentage (third). His 14 wins lead the league.
UMD ranks eighth nationally on the power play (24.07 percent) and 31st on the penalty kill (80.99 percent).
One current Colorado Avalanche player that will be keeping a close eye on these games is Dominic Toninato. The rookie center served as the captain for UMD last season.
Both games will start at 7:05 PM and can be heard on 104.3 The Fan. Friday’s contest will be televised nationally on CBS Sports.